I have young foster children in the home who have been maltreated in the past. How might that affect their sleep?
The scientific literature suggests that children who have been maltreated are at risk of long term sleep difficulties, such as difficulty sleeping and experiencing nightmares. Of course maltreatment can come in many different forms, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and neglect. It seems that children with certain types of abuse – sexual abuse in particular, may be most susceptible to sleep problems. There may also be a dose-response relationship, with children who have suffered more severe abuse experiencing more frequent difficulties with their sleep.
As to what explains the association between maltreatment and sleep, one possibility is that children who are maltreated are more likely to experience more trauma-related psychopathology such as anxiety and depression, as compared to others. This may impact upon their sleep.
Overall, it is important to feel safe before you sleep. Sleeping involves losing vigilance which can make you vulnerable. It is therefore somewhat unsurprising that children who have been maltreated often sleep poorly. If your foster child has been maltreated in the past and is not sleeping well – please do talk to a healthcare provider who can advise on the best way to help your child.About Dr. Alice Gregory